Rochester School Board OKs contract with Police Department over school resource officers

Board member Karen MacLaughlin said one of the changes to the document is the "decriminalization of normal student behavior."

Rochester School Board
A school board meeting is held on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, at the Edison Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Rochester Public Schools approved a new contract with the Rochester Police Department regarding the use of school resource officers, representing a step forward on a contentious issue between the two organizations.

The school board unanimously approved the contract Tuesday, although the conversation leading up to the vote indicated it was a compromise for some.

"I think this is a step in the right direction; it's not perfect," Board member Karen MacLaughlin said about the contract. "But I'm hoping the changes in this document will push RPD along the path of being more equitable in our schools."

MacLaughlin said one of the changes to the document is the "decriminalization of normal student behavior."

The school district has used school resource officers for nearly 30 years. That use, however, has become the source of controversy throughout the last few years as the national conversation about police violence has amplified.


Board member Julie Workman said it's important to remember that what may be issues elsewhere are not necessarily issues for Rochester. She then emphasized a section of the contract that explains how SROs will not be involved in school discipline of students.

"It's important to understand that what is happening in California or Ohio or South Carolina is not happening here," Workman said. "We have our own situation, our own environment."

Board member Jess Garcia, who has been critical of the use of SROs, asked why the contract couldn't go further in calling out racial issues that she believes exist in law enforcement.

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She said part of the reason for the delay was that the school district wanted to "explicitly identify our roles in perpetuating racism and racial repression, and RPD not wanting to do that."

In response, Superintendent Kent Pekel said it was decided that adding language identifying those kind of issues went beyond the scope of a legal document for services.

"Just because something doesn't go in a legal contract doesn't mean it can't be a subject of collaboration," Pekel said.

The school board has held multiple meetings on the topic with representatives from the police department, debating everything from what kind of uniforms SROs should wear to whether they should be armed.

Last summer, the school board approved a memorandum of understanding in the hopes of better defining the roles of the SROs until a new contract could be drafted.


Like Garcia, board member Don Barlow indicated he would have liked to see more language in the contract addressing various historical issues between law enforcement and marginalized communities.

"The contract that's before us is a step forward," Barlow said. "(My) vote for it does not necessarily suggest that I am in favor of everything because we did not, in my view, get everything that the subcommittee desired."

2022-2023 SRO Draft Agreement by inforumdocs on Scribd

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or
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